Answers to your frequently asked questions about flame retardants and your health.

Question:  Will TB 117-2013 ban flame retardants in furniture and baby products?

Answer:  No.  TB 117-2013 makes it possible for manufacturers to meet the new standard without the use of flame retardant chemicals, but it does not prohibit their use.  So it is up to the manufacturers to decide how they plan to meet the new standard.

Question:  Why was the revision necessary?

Answer:  The state’s 1975 standard was a hopelessly outdated relic that was long overdue for change. Independent government researchers have stated that TB 117 failed to improve fire safety; instead, it prompted companies to implement unnecessary practices that exposed our children and families to a long series of toxic flame retardant chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems.  The old standard was a lose-lose proposition for all of us – except the companies that make flame retardant chemicals.

Question:  Is it possible to retain the current level of fire safety standards AND remove these chemical flame retardants?

Answer:  Yes, fire safety experts say that TB 117-2013 will improve fire safety, without relying on harmful chemicals. Fire safety will improve because: 1) Unlike the old standard, TB 117-2013 will ensure that products can resist a smoldering cigarette on fabric, the major cause of fires.   2) When foam with flame retardants burns, it produces much higher levels of carbon monoxide, soot and smoke. These toxic gases (not the actual fire) are the major contributors to fire death.

Question:  How can I know if my furniture contains flame retardant chemicals?

Answer:  In many cases, there is no sure way to tell. Manufacturers are not required to disclose whether they use flame retardants or not, and few label their products. CEH is urging retailers and producers to label their products once TB 117-2013 comes into effect on January 1, so consumers can make an informed choice when they shop.  For older furniture, here are some guidelines:

  • Furniture that does not contain polyurethane foam usually does not contain flame retardant chemicals.
  • If your furniture contains polyurethane foam and you bought or reupholstered it in California after 1975, or if it has a label stating it complies with TB 117, it probably contains a flame retardant chemical.
  • Furniture purchased prior to 2000 outside of California has about a 50% chance of containing flame retardant chemicals.  The more recently you bought your couch, and/ or if it has a TB 117 label, the higher the likelihood that is has flame retardant chemicals.

Question:  Can my foam be tested for the presence of flame retardants?

Answer:  The Center for Environmental Health can test foam to detect the presence of elements in some major flame retardants. These results do not indicate which specific flame retardant your furniture contains or in what concentration, but if we find the elements we are looking for (chlorine and bromine) it is likely that the foam has been treated with  brominated or chlorinated flame retardants.

At CEH we cannot test for phosphorus-based flame retardants, but Duke University’s free foam testing can. More information on sending your foam to Duke University for a more comprehensive analysis can be found here.

For instructions on how to take a foam sample to send to CEH, follow these instructions and we will get results back to you in 3-4 weeks.  Only a small sample of foam is needed and this can usually be easily removed from a zippered cushion. While testing is free, CEH is a non-profit organization and welcomes all donations.

Question:  When the new flammability standard (TB 117-2013) goes into effect, will I be able to buy flame retardant free furniture?

Answer:  If you are shopping for furniture after TB 117-2013 goes into effect here are some tips:

  • If the product has a TB 117 label, it most likely contains flame retardants. Manufacturers are allowed to sell their old inventory until it runs out.
  • If the product has a TB 117-2013 label, it may or may not be free from flame retardants. The best way to be sure is to ask the retailer or call the manufacturer and ask them if their product is flame retardant-free.
  • CEH is urging retailers and producers to label their products once TB 117-2013 comes into effect on January 1, so consumers can make an informed choice when they shop. We will list companies who commit to making flame retardant-free products on our website.
  • The new standard allows people to request a prescription from a licensed health care professional for furniture made without flame retardant chemicals.  We expect that numerous companies will make flame retardant-free furniture to meet this demand.

Residential Furniture Survey

Question:  Do children’s mattresses contain flame retardant chemicals?

Answer:  If a child’s mattress is made of polyurethane foam (e.g, such as juvenile and crib mattresses) they are likely to contain flame retardants (rather than use the more expensive barrier technology as used in adult mattresses). A 2012 report by CEH found several crib mattresses and mattress pads contained a cancer-causing flame retardant chemical. However, there are some companies that advertise crib mattresses made without flame retardants. We advise parents to look for those products and ask retailers and/or producers if their products contain flame retardant chemicals.

Question:  Do children’s pajamas contain flame retardant chemicals?

Answer:   Some children’s sleepwear (for children 9 months and older) may contain flame retardant chemicals.  Here are some tips to help you avoid flame retardant chemicals 1. Choose snug- fitting sleepwear whose tag says “must be snug fitting” and “not flame resistant.”   2. Avoid 100% cotton sleepwear that is labeled as treated with Proban or Securest.

Children’s sleepwear sized under 9 months does not have to meet existing flammability regulations so it is unlikely that these products contain flame retardants.


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